We love to see designers create purses from recycled materials. They experiment with materials and pursue designs to the point of obsession. Luckily, their experimentation has produced some amazing results. This a salute to the companies that started the trend of creating upcycled purses and bags.
Sail Bag Tote | Sea Bags of Maine
Hailing from the working waterfront of Portland Maine, the brand, Sea Bags makes upcycled bags and totes that are “born as sails and transformed into nautically inspired totes and accessories.” The crew of 30 craftspeople salvage recycled sail material individually and locally. The sails are collected one at a time via a network of local boaters.
Designed and sewn onsite, Sea Bags makes products that are durable, practical and simple. During the 15 years they have been in business, they have saved over 500 tons of material from going into landfills. Sea Bags are an excellent choice for a stylish boating outfit or for eating at a seaside restaurant.
Pop Tab Purse | Escama Studio
Handcrafted in Brazil by skilled women artisans, Escama Studio makes metallic ‘chainmail’ purses from upcycled aluminum soda tabs. Each bag is hand woven from hundreds, sometimes thousands, of aluminum pop tabs. The results are stunning metallic wearable works of art that are surprisingly supple and lightweight.
Like many traditional craft businesses, Escama bags began as a cottage industry. Leather, canvas and other materials were not available so the artisans created bags with what was at hand: aluminum tabs, thread and an abundance of ingenuity.
With upcycled crossbody bags and purses now selling in the US, Europe and Asia, this cottage industry is now popular with worldwide audience. Available at Escama Studio.
Upcycled Purses from Auto Upholstery | Kim White Handbags
When we were starting our own business in 2004, the designer Kim White was everywhere with her 70s retro handbags inspired by muscle car culture. The purses looked like they were made from the interior of a bitchin' Camaro and they were.
Kim got overstock fabric from Detroit auto manufacturers, and in case anyone doubted the origin of the fabric, each bag came with a tag that explained 'this is fabric from a 1978 Ford Mustang'. These purses had an on-trend Detroit muscle-car theme and the aesthetic carried through even to Kim's clever automotive inspired branding. Kim’s retro 70s purses are very sought after, but these days they’re hard to find. If you manage to find one online, buy it.
Seatbelt Purse | Harvey’s
Continuing on the automotive theme, one of the biggest success stories of up-cycled purse brands is the legendary HARVEYS Seat Belt Bag. The Harveys story began in the tiny Southern California garage of Dana and Melanie Harvey. While restoring their classic car, Dana came up with the idea to use seatbelts to make bag for Melanie. Now, over two decades later Harveys is a global phenomenon with a madly loyal customer base.
The company has a huge range of seat belt bags, clutches, wallets, messenger bags. They now have collections for Disney and Lucas Films that are more elaborate than earlier styles.
Our favorite Seat Belt Bags styles are their Original styles in solid colors. If you keep your eye out you’ll start to notice them everywhere you go. They’ve been an extremely popular purse for decades.
Fire Hose Purse | Oxgut
Oxgut got its name from the first fire hoses of Ancient Greece which were made from Ox intestines. The company gathers old fire hoses salvaged from Fire Departments. Our favorite bag is the Frida Fire Hose Tote, in white fire hose lined with deep navy blue nylon.
Oxgut has expanded their product offering from upcycled purses to now home furnishings such as fire hose mats, lounge chairs, and hammocks. The company donates a portion of every sale to the Children’s Burn Foundation.Recycled Inner Tube Bag | Green Guru
Green Guru and the brand Alchemy Goods make biker-friendly messenger bags. The slogan of Alchemy Goods is “Goods for Eco-Friendly People”.
The material, upcycled bicycle inner tubes, gets a lot of love from their customers, bicycle enthusiasts, and the products that they develop, bicycle messenger bags and the totes all fit the customers' lifestyle.
AG works from Seattle making bags from bicycle inner tubes but also advertising banners sourced from businesses throughout the U.S. Our favorite bag is the sleek and functional Laurelhurst Crossbody Purse.
We see mostly men carrying innertube messenger bags. The bags are super functional, waterproof and the material is utilitarian. It’s a favorite with bicyclists.
Recycled Truck Tarp Bags | Freitag
One of the biggest international success stories of green handbags is Swiss company, Freitag. Graphic designers Markus and Daniel Freitag created the first truck tarp bag back in 1993.
Marcus must have been inspired by all of the trucks roaring past the dump of an apartment. He bought a dirty tarp from a trucking company, dragged it back on his bike trailer, hauled it up the stairs and threw it onto the living room floor, and announced “I’m gonna make a bag out of it”.
In no time, the dump of an apartment became a bag factory. Their clientele was initially with cyclists and their products were messenger bags using truck tarps, discarded bicycle inner tubes and car seat belts.
Now decades later, Freitag has a huge following among urban cyclists as well as designers and sustainably conscious consumers. The company was one of the first to use upcycled materials and it remains committed to sustainable product manufacturing and circular design.
Freitag is one of our favorite bags – they’re a little bit heavy but they’re virtually indestructible and have cool original graphics from the trucking industry.
Mafia Bags | Up-cycled Bags from Kite Sails
Mafia Bags tell their customers that when they buy a Mafia bag, “you’re also getting a piece of the ocean, supporting the local community and sustainable practices.”
Launched in Buenos Aires in 2012 Mafia began when Marcos (a former professional kite surfer) realized that the sturdy, colorful sails used in kite surfing and windsurfing could be up-cycled into bags.
Today, Mafia produces bags, backpacks and accessories from recycled sails donated directly from kite surfers. The bags are colorful and super lightweight, the bag of choice for kite surfers.
Brands Who Make Upcycled Bags
Alchemy Goods - Bicycle inner tube bags
English Retreads - Truck inner tube bags
Vye & Elle - Billboard bags
Rareform - Upcycled billboard bags
Escama Studio - Upcycled pop tab bag
Mafia Bags - Upcycled kite sail bags
Malia Designs - Upcycled Cambodian fish meal bags
Sea Bags - Recycled sail bags
Harveys - SeatBelt bags
Oxgut - Firehose bag
Frietag - Truck tarp bags
Nahui Ollin - Candy wrapper bags
More blog posts related to fashion design:
- Interview with fashion costume designer, Chris March
- 1960s iconic fashion designer Paco Rabanne.
- 'Trash fashion' designer Sara Basehart.